Steppes Hill Farm Antiques Newsletter #80 - April 2018

A Cast of Dickensian Character Novelty Silver Bookmarks

'Mr Turveydrop'                      'David Copperfield'                    'Nicholas Nickleby'

It was probably William Richard Corke of Northampton Square, London EC; engravers, silversmiths and gold and silver mounters, who in the late 19th century first came up with the idea of producing these charming novelty silver Bookmarks made in the form of Dickensian characters.
Charles Dickens died in 1870, but his work was still extremely popular in this country and perhaps even more so in the United States in the late 19th century. Corke used high-end retailers - Andrew Barrett & Sons of Piccadilly, London, to market his goods  and one would have thought that these little Dickensian trifles might have been good sellers. It is therefore quite surprising that relatively few English examples seem to have survived - it is not often that they appear on the market.

More frequently we see the American versions made by J.F.Fradley & Co of New York, a quality firm and maker's of small scale sterling and gold items, desk sets, vanity items, cane handles and frames etc. We know that Mr Fradley made annual trips to Europe to source the latest novelties and perhaps he paid a visit to Corke in the East End or Barrett's in the West End of London. 

Fradley's examples are equally well made and engraved and one might even suggest that they are direct copies of the slightly earlier English examples.

In the past, it is only occasionally that I have handled examples of these rare silver Bookmarks, and I am pleased to be able to offer a whole Cast of Characters here:- Please click on the link....


In 1868, J. F. Fradley who had completed his apprenticeship as chaser in the silverware factory of Wood & Hughes, opened a small workshop in the Gilsey Building, corner of Broadway and Cortlandt St., New York, and began doing chasing for the trade. He soon had a staff of between 25 and 30 chasers in his employ.

In 1870 Mr. Fradley decided that if his work was so attractive for others it would be more so on goods manufactured by himself and he accordingly opened a small factory at 68 Nassau St., for the production of gold headed canes which at that time were very popular.

The venture proved a success from the start, and in 1873 he moved his office and factory to 18 John St., and added all kinds of silver novelties to his productions. The next move a few years later was to 21 John St. Subsequently the office was moved to 23 John St., and the factory to the southwest corner of Pearl and Frankfort Sts. The whole top floor is occupied by the firm, together with the basement.

The silverware produced by the firm shows the result of artistic workmanship, and to secure the latest novelties, Mr. Fradley takes annual trips to Europe. The office of the firm was moved to Silversmiths’ Hall, Union Square, May, 1891. Some years ago Mr. Fradley admitted into partnership D. P. Mygatt, a young man who had been in his employ several years, and subsequently F. M. Matthews, John Blackwell and George Fradley were admitted.


Biography of Charles Dickens

Charles Dickens was born in Portsmouth on 7 February 1812, to John and Elizabeth Dickens. The good fortune of being sent to school at the age of nine was short-lived because his father, inspiration for the character of Mr Micawber in 'David Copperfield', was imprisoned for bad debt. The entire family, apart from Charles, were sent to Marshalsea along with their patriarch. Charles was sent to work in Warren's blacking factory and endured appalling conditions as well as loneliness and despair. After three years he was returned to school, but the experience was never forgotten and became fictionalised in two of his better-known novels 'David Copperfield' and 'Great Expectations'.

Like many others, he began his literary career as a journalist. His own father became a reporter and Charles began with the journals 'The Mirror of Parliament' and 'The True Sun'. Then in 1833 he became parliamentary journalist for The Morning Chronicle. With new contacts in the press he was able to publish a series of sketches under the pseudonym 'Boz'. In April 1836, he married Catherine Hogarth, daughter of George Hogarth who edited 'Sketches by Boz'. Within the same month came the publication of the highly successful 'Pickwick Papers', and from that point on there was no looking back for Dickens.

As well as a huge list of novels he published autobiography, edited weekly periodicals including 'Household Words' and 'All Year Round', wrote travel books and administered charitable organisations. He was also a theatre enthusiast, wrote plays and performed before Queen Victoria in 1851. His energy was inexhaustible and he spent much time abroad - for example lecturing against slavery in the United States and touring Italy with companions Augustus Egg and Wilkie Collins, a contemporary writer who inspired Dickens' final unfinished novel 'The Mystery of Edwin Drood'.

He was estranged from his wife in 1858 after the birth of their ten children, but maintained relations with his mistress, the actress Ellen Ternan. He died of a stroke in 1870. He is buried at Westminster Abbey.

Featured Item

An extremely rare William IV novelty silver gilt Vinaigrette formed as a Chrysanthemum, the circular body repousse decorated with finely chased petals, the short wire stem with single cast leaf. The interior silver gilt grille pierced with a cornucopia overflowing with scrolling leaves.

By Joseph Willmore, Birmingham, 1830

See: 'Investing in Silver', by Eric Delieb (2nd Edition) page 111, where he describes this Vinaigrette as a sunflower and "one of the rarest of all the 'shape' Vinaigrettes".

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Edwardian Novelty Silver Fox Hound Pin Cushion Rare George III Silver Fish Vinaigrette Victorian Novelty Silver Combination Fish Vesta Case / Whistle George V Novelty Silver Dog Pulling a Cart Pin Cushion
Royal Worcester Queen Victoria Golden Jubilee Scent Bottle 19th Century German Novelty Silver & Enamel Cigar Box Vesta Case Victorian Novelty Silver Barrel Vinaigrette Victoriain Silver & Enamel Playing Cards Vesta Case 'Queen of Hearts'

Once again I am pleased to be able to update the site this month with over 30 new items of stock and some highlights include; a rare Edwardian Novelty Silver Fox Hound Pin Cushion, a rare George III Silver Fish Vinaigrette, a Victorian Novelty Silver Combination Fish Vesta Case / Whistle, a George V Novelty Silver Dog Pulling a Cart Pin Cushion, a  Royal Worcester Queen Victoria Golden Jubilee Scent Bottle, a 19th Century German Novelty Silver & Enamel Cigar Box Vesta Case, a Victorian Novelty Silver Barrel Vinaigrette and a Victoriain Silver & Enamel Playing Cards Vesta Case depicting the 'Queen of Hearts'.


I do hope that you will find this Newsletter informative and helpful and will allow us send it to you on a regular basis. I would welcome any feedback you may have, both positive and negative.

David W.A. Buck.
Steppes Hill Farm Antiques


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